Since our retirement seven years ago, my husband Jim and I have explored much of the United States. We have lived out of our RV for six months a year, traveling between points A and B. With each back-and-forth trek across the country, our realization grew of how much more there was to see. There were new places to discover, and favorite places to revisit and seek out sights we may have missed. This wanderlust begged to leave no stone unturned. We have had so many adventures in our travels, not the least of which center around our four adorable grandkids. They wait for us in California, which is our final destination each autumn.
Last October found us abruptly, too soon, at the end of the road. We were exactly halfway between here and there, when it seemed our days of exploration were over. The RV was lost in an Oklahoma ice storm. The difficult loss of so much was traumatic and jarring, but we were physically unharmed. The RV was totaled, but the pickup truck was drivable. We sifted through what was salvageable and continued our westward journey with a U-Haul trailer tagging along behind. We explored our options and, with the support of family and friends, we found physical shelter, safety, and security.
Once we were situated in our new domicile, we were able to count the losses, and with grateful hearts say that it was all good. We were OK. I was OK, or so I thought. Just when I was feeling pretty good about how things had turned out, I reckoned with a soulful, jarring prompting to cross a boundary line I had set long ago. This nudge from Spirit wasn’t really new, but I had fiercely deemed it as forbidden territory. This inner landscape of grief had been ignored for decades. Oh, there had been brief, unavoidable encounters with grief and loss during my years of soul-care training, but they were mere jaunts—a tentative probing of the margins, of the shadowlands.
Over time, there has been much unlearning and dismantling of stoicism and denial. When this particular summons arose, persistent as it was, there was the usual resistance. This time, however, there was no saying, “No.” Any dismissal of the reality of suppressed grief had slipped away on the icy Oklahoma highway. Underlying stress and chaos spoke clearly to the actuality of the cold darkness and sadness that had shattered the illusion that all was well.
I found myself losing hope, crashing into despair.
Nagging irritability made me hard to live with, I’m sure. Regret was raising an irrational head; guilt and shame were having their way with me as I lost my footing. This slide into the pit of despair had taken years, really—so much longer than the slow-motion glide of the RV towards the median of the highway on that fateful day. My prayer was the same: Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy.
It’s been an exhausting, desperate crawl out of the icy grasp of anxiety and depression. Pharmaceuticals and counseling have bolstered innate courage, and I’ve found the traction and passage I needed to climb out of the dark pit. Along this arduous way, I was reminded of Dostoevsky’s phrase, “Beauty will save the world.”
As I take measure of the relentlessness of grief, my close companions are beauty, truth, and goodness. Beauty invites me to feel—to take pleasure in and find deep satisfaction in the little things, to remember there is a flip-side to the underlying grief. Truth calls out to my authentic self, to the creative soul in me, and to the more of my story, aside from the grief. Goodness calls me to generosity, to being kind to myself. It encourages me to be gentle with those raw places still being probed, prodded, and examined, even as I lament.
Here. Now. I take a deep breath, sigh, and am grateful for all the new possibilities which are waiting to be explored, even as I continue to consider the measure of grief in my life.
Linda Lyzenga is a curious, awestruck listener of sacred story. She is a spiritual director and compassionate companion for life’s sacred journey. Her compass points to beauty, truth, and goodness. She lives in Michigan for six months each year. The rest of the time, she and her husband, Jim, explore new territory and share life with their California kids and grandchildren. She blogs on her Facebook page, Postcards to Heaven.